McLaren have been talking about it for years, Ferrari almost had it with Sauber, Honda are blatantly exploiting it right now with Super Aguri, and recently Red Bull and Toro Rosso have done it. But are team partnerships good for Formula One, or are they just a waste of money and distract from the competition that most fans want to see?
When I talk about B-Teams, I’m referring to one company owning and running two separate teams in the same sport. Red Bull Racing took over from the failed Jaguar attempt in 2005, and since then the cash rich company has bought Minardi from Paul Stoddart and rebranded the outfit to Scuderia Toro Rosso. Although the team is part owned by ex-F1 driver Gerhard Berger, the team is still – in essence – Red Bull.
A few years ago, Ferrari tried something similar, although with less written down in order to circumnavigate the rules of the time. Ferrari sold their engine units to Sauber, and in return were allowed to see data compiled from the Swiss teams tests. This paid divivends when Bridgestone became suppliers to both teams and Ferrari gained a significant advantage in understanding how the tyres worked in a variety of conditions. It was also rumoured many times that the 2005 Sauber bore a large resemblance to the all-conquering 2004 Ferrari – something I’m sure Peter Sauber knows more about than he is letting on. Of course, that is all water under the bridge now, but the relationship was important at the time, and Ferrari’s knowledge of their tyres certainly helped them to win the 2004 titles.
While this type of partnership is certainly beneficial to the company owning/utilising both teams, is this sort of collaboration good for the sport, and more importantly, the fans?
Let’s take a look at the current RBR/STR relationship.
Red Bull Racing clearly wants to win – there is no doubt in my mind about that. The team have gone from strength to strength in the two years they have competed, and while 2006 wasn’t so good in terms of points hauled, they certainly set themselves up for the future by extending David Coulthard’s contract, acquiring Mark Webber’s signature and signing Adrian Newey to the design department. They have also secured not only the Ferrari engine unit which they used in 2006 (now being moved to the Toro Rosso car for 2007), but managed to convince Renault to sell them a few of their championship winning engines. Red Bull have their sights on the title, but where does that leave sister team Toro Rosso?
Do Toro Rosso want to win? If the answer is yes, what happens when they do? What will Red Bull’s reaction be? The idea of the junior team beating the elders seems wrong on a corporate level. It would surely embarrass the senior team and lead to non-favourable questions being asked to Christian Horner – RBR team principal.
From the standpoint that STR are there to help RBR with brand awareness, image and to also share knowledge from tests and suppliers, then the idea of a B-Team is good. In fact, it is a very good decision from a business view. Everyone knows that two heads are better than one.
But if STR are to survive, they must stand on their own two feet, and one way of helping to ensure this is to win. Of course, many winning teams do go belly up – winning is certainly not a guarantee, but it doesn’t hurt. Gerhard Berger has invested money into the team, and he will want to get the best from Toro Rosso, and as an ex-driver, he knows that winning is important – it is in his blood.
So what happens when an STR is leading a race? There is a RBR in second, and gaining fast on the Toro Rosso. There are only a couple of laps left in the race. Do the powers above dictate that the STR pull over for the RBR? Would the STR move over, bearing in mind we are now dealing with a driver’s career as well as the teams? Or do they allow the cars to race, potentially destroying the finish for both, potentially destroying the reputation of both and potentially embarrassing Red Bull seniors?
I realise that the above scenario may never happen – it is all hypothetical. But with Dave Richards announcing that his new team Prodrive will be partnered with a current before they launch later in the year, I am concerned that manufacturers and high-powered companies with lots of cash could take away the element of racing from the sport. Team orders a big no-no now, but we all know that altering the finishing order a couple of laps from the end at the final race of the year would happen should it mean the team will win the drivers title. You may not have to agree with it, but it is something that exists and will be implemented with the current rule structure.
All this is coming to the fore again, as Frank Williams (among others) is threatening legal action should Toro Rosso and Super Aguri race cars that are clearly previous incarnations of Red Bull’s and Honda’s. Super Aguri have been doing well in testing recently, and Anthony Davidson even set a fastest time on one of the days. Although winter testing should be taken with a rather large grain of salt, it does show that Aguri have made significant improvements, and the visual comparison to the Honda RA106 is clear for everyone to see.
Are big companies taking away the element of racing from Formula One, or are they improving the spectacle by introducing more competitive teams to the grid, albeit in a controversial way?
Have your say…